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Be a seminar star

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The irony isn’t lost on advisor Rosemary Caligiuri. She’s not as active on the seminar circuit as she once was because she’s too busy with clients. Yet seminars are a prime reason she’s so busy in the first place.

“I’ve hired four subagents to basically duplicate myself, and it seems like I still can’t keep up with my business,” says Caligiuri, CASL, ChFC, CFS, president and founder of the Harvest Group, outside of Philadelphia.

After a decade of doing at least one seminar a month, a growing client workload has prompted her to cut that schedule significantly in the past several years.

Working at or near client capacity is a challenge most advisors would gladly confront. And Caligiuri is proof that committing to a consistent, no-pressure, non-salesy seminar program can fill the client pipeline — and keep it filled.

“I think it’s our responsibility [as advisors] to inform and empower people with financial literacy and financial education,” says Caligiuri, this magazine’s 2008 Advisor of the Year. “You do that with seminars, and you’re going to form trust with people. You do that consistently for a bunch of years, and you may find yourself in a situation like mine — busy, to say the least.”

As full as his appointment book is, Craig Randall, founder and president of Southern California-based Randall Wealth Management Group, still maintains a full seminar schedule because, he says, it has long been his firm’s strongest client-generation vehicle. Indeed, Randall’s seminar formula has been so successful, he spun off a separate company, Randall Marketing Group, to train other advisors on how to execute it.

“Seminars are the one way I can get 20 to 25 brand-new people in my office that like and trust me,” says Randall, who earned SMA Advisor of the Year honors in 2007.

Building a successful seminar program isn’t rocket science, but it does require a diverse skill set. Here Caligiuri and Randall share some of their secrets to standing out in the crowded seminar circuit:

Prospect methodically
Direct mail remains “by far the best way to target your [seminar] market,” says Randall. Through extensive experience, he’s figured people generally are willing to drive five miles, roughly 15 minutes, to go to a seminar and 10 miles, or 30 minutes, to get to his office. So he targets only potential attendees within a 10-miles radius of his office. He picks a venue — typically a restaurant — within that radius, then employs a zip code-based prospecting tool, such as ZIPFind, to narrow the field.

Next he turns to his mail house to further refine the demographics, yielding a list to which he mails a simple, relatively inexpensive but professional-quality postcard listing three seminar dates from which recipients can choose. A 1 percent response rate is reasonable for seminar mailings, Randall adds.

Delegate duties to capable vendors
It’s wise to find a trusted mail house to handle mailing lists, the mailing process and the follow-up phone calls that hopefully come as a result, Randall says.

“Getting people [to seminars] is pretty turnkey for us,” he says

While it may be tempting to handle those responsibilities in-house, that can become a “disaster,” Randall notes. “You don’t want to get involved in it if you can help it.”

Fill the agenda with a variety of engaging topics
Rather than focus on a single topic or product, both Randall and Caligiuri concur attendees respond best to an agenda with multiple topics, each with their own “hook.” From long-term care and inflation to estate planning and IRAs, hot-button issues attract attendees. Of course, for compliance’s sake, it’s vital that the advisor have the required licenses when discussing products such as annuities for which suitability is a major regulatory concern.

Partner with another pro
It can be worthwhile, says Caligiuri, to bring in a specialist, such as an estate planning attorney, to beef up the program and fill any gaps in your knowledge base.

Paint the full picture
Seminar attendees don’t want to feel they’re being sold something. They want objective information and even-handed solutions.

“Whether it’s annuities, life insurance, whatever, you want to give people a fair look at the pros and cons of these products,” says Caligiuri.

The extra credibility that comes with being multi-licensed helps in that regard, she adds.

“Because I’m licensed across the board, I can educate people on the risks and the benefits of a lot of different products,” Caligiuri says. “That brings a completely different feel to the seminar. People don’t feel like it’s a sales or product pitch.”

The only thing you’re selling is yourself
“These folks aren’t looking for a product,” Randall says. “What they’re really looking for is a relationship with someone they trust.”

Thus it’s incumbent on the advisor to show why he or she is different from other advisors without tooting his or her own horn too loudly.

Steer clear of fear-mongering
“We need to empower, not intimidate,” says Caligiuri.

Rather than dwell on the negative implications of not having a certain investment or insurance product, educate attendees about how certain instruments and strategies can positively impact their situation.

“It can even be an adult-education type scenario,” she explains, “where you’re talking about topics that you may never make any money on, like home equity loans, things like that.”

Have fun while you’re educating
“I go into a seminar with the mindset I’m going to entertain people and have fun,” Randall says.

Build to the close
Randall wraps the seminar by pulling together all the subjects he’s touched upon, then tactfully prompts his audience to set appointments before departing the event. It’s a “big mistake” to rely solely on follow-up for appointment setting, he says.

Follow up promptly, and preferably, personally
Both Randall and Caligiuri say a personal phone call from the advisor to each attendee is vital to the appointment-setting process.

“I want them to feel like we’re working together already,” Randall explains, “and I want them to put me in their appointment book, but I don’t want them to feel like I’m being pushy.”

Keep the prospect warm
A personal follow-up/thank-you letter from the advisor to attendees is a must. It’s also worth considering a follow-up drip campaign, perhaps via e-mail to keep costs low, Caligiuri says.

Get out there consistently
The only way for a seminar program to gain momentum is to do events regularly, Randall says.

Above all, he asserts, success on the seminar circuit is about recognizing these events are merely a means to an end.

“With seminars, you are in the client-gathering business. The asset-gathering part of your practice comes later, once the relationship is there.”


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